The superhero genre can get quite confusing, and that confusion isn’t limited to folks who don’t know who these characters are. The headscratchers can come from within the publishers, too, especially from Marvel and DC.
Marvel and DC both have countless characters whose archetypes, power-sets, or general storylines have similarities and overlaps. For example Superman and Captain America, Batman and Iron Man, Aquaman and Namor… it is a long list. It’s easy for even a long-time fan to start mixing up those characters’ origins, personality traits, and powers. But what happens when you have two characters, from two different publishers, that have the same name (ish) but have nothing to do with each other? In the span of a month – thanks to Marvel’s Captain Marvel and DC’s Shazam! movie (Shazam! formerly also being known as Captain Marvel) – you’re going to find out.
Before we dive deeper into the differences and similarities of these two popular characters, here’s a quick timeline of each character’s convoluted publishing origins:
- December 1939: Captain Marvel’s original publisher, Fawcett Comics, releases Whiz Comics #2, the first appearance of Captain Marvel.
- May 1951: DC Comics sues Fawcett Comics over their use of Captain Marvel, claiming he is a rip-off of Superman
- September 1952: Fawcett Comics settles with DC Comics out of court.
- Autumn 1953: Fawcett Publications closes down its comic division. Several staffers end up at DC Comics (Detective Comics at the time).
- December 1967: Marvel’s version of Captain Marvel makes their first appearance in Marvel Super-heroes #12.
- February 1973: DC Comics revives Billy Batson/Captain Marvel in Shazam #1, with the sub-header “The Original Captain Marvel.”
- March 1973: Marvel Comics issues a cease and desist letter over DC’s use of “The Original Captain Marvel” subhead.
- 1974 – Present: Captain Marvel and Shazam’s multiple iterations finally live their best lives in harmony.
In a 35-year time span, one can see that these heroes share absolutely no similarities outside of their names and that they are both fictional characters. Yet, while the DC version had a name change, both started out as Captain Marvel. So what are the differences between the Marvel and DC versions of Captain Marvel?
Who Is Marvel’s Captain Marvel?
The Captain Marvel moniker has been held by several characters inside the Marvel Universe (told you this was confusing). Mar-Vell, Carol Danvers, Nor-Varr, Genis-Vell, Phyla-Vell, Khn’nr, and Monica Rambeau have all been Captain Marvel at one time or another. But since the upcoming film is Carol’s story, we’re going to stick with her.
Carol Danvers started out her superhero journey as Ms. Marvel. Her career as a Security Chief in the United States Airforce is cut short by (naturally) an exploding Kree device. The explosion caused her genes to be infused with Captain Marvel’s DNA (the moniker then being held by Kree soldier Mar-Vell), making her a Kree-human hybrid. Many years later, she would take the mantle of Captain Marvel from Mar-Vell and continue their mission to stop the Skrulls and any other foe that would threaten the universe.
Her powers are Kree-based and quite extensive. She also has the ability to considerably amplify those powers when needed by going Binary (it’s a whole thing, but bottom-line: It’s when she gets turbo-charged, basically). Captain Marvel has a limitation or two, but Binary is currently canonically unstoppable. Obviously, it’s not easy for her to stay in that state for long, but it still comes in handy in world-ending situations!
Who Is DC’S Captain Marvel/Shazam?
So, what’s the deal with this Billy Batson character? How is he DC’s version of Captain Marvel? He is a young kid, an orphan in the comics who stumbles into a different dimension to find the Immortal Elders (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury). Those elders grant him their power to allow him to protect the mortal realm. When Billy says the word “Shazam!” he becomes the brawny adult hero of the same name. Among the powers granted to him are superhuman speed, strength, flight, and more.
Once Billy’s done hero-ing, he turns right back into a kid again. He still goes to school, has crushes, and all those other normal kid things. It’s also important to note that, though his body changes when he becomes Shazam, his mind remains the same. Yup, the kid is out here fighting super villains while just trying to find his forever home and pass his math test. Clearly, he’s not the only character with alter ego woes, but c’mon, he’s like fourteen!
Narratively speaking, these two superheroes have zero similar connections (other than, you know, being SUPER strong). Their characters and personalities aren’t the same whatsoever and their power-sets only vaguely resemble one another. Yet, despite all of their differences, the two characters have remained conflated since Marvel’s introduction of their version of Captain Marvel all those decades ago. Legal battles between the two characters’ publishing companies have gone by the wayside; the two characters have gone on living their respective lives and evolving the way all comic book characters do. And yet, years after their last connections faded, here we are in 2019 with both Marvels finding themselves in each others’ orbit once again.
Captain Marvel and Shazam! will premiere twenty-six days apart from one another. They won’t compete over the exact same slice of box office pie, but they’ll both court the same demographic of comic book fans. Given their history, it’s weird that these two properties have found themselves vaguely intertwined once again after all these years. At the same time, there’s also a kind of poetry to it. Ultimately, whether you are fans of the characters or not, it’s not about where their power comes from, or which comic book giant distributes them. It’s just about saving the day and entertaining audiences.
Looks like Carol and Billy have something else in common after all.
Captain Marvel hits theaters March 8 – grab your tickets now. Shazam! arrives April 5.
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